16 Apr JAPAN CASE STUDY: HAKAMADA IWAO
Hakamada Iwao (Hakamada), born in 1936 and a former boxer, was arrested for murder in 1966. He was sentenced to death in 1968.
Following his arrest, police subjected Hakamada to 23 days of intensive interrogation from 18 August to 9 September 1966. He was interrogated without a break for an average of 12 hours a day; on three occasions he was interrogated for over 14 hours. He confessed after 20 days, was interrogated for another three days and then charged. During this period he signed a series of documents purportedly confessing to the crime. Hakamada later signed more confessions, this time prepared by the Public Prosecutor.
Hakamada retracted these statements at his trial, claiming that while he was detained he had been denied food and water, was not allowed to use a toilet, and was kicked and punched. In a letter to his sister he wrote: “…one of the interrogators put my thumb onto an ink-pad, drew it to the written confession record and ordered me, ‘write your name here!’, shouting at me, kicking me and wrenching my arm.” Hakamada had had only three short interviews with different defence lawyers prior to trial.
During his trial by the Shizuoka District Court in 1968, there were numerous inconsistencies in the evidence. Judges raised concerns that purported confessions presented by the Prosecution with Hakamada’s signature were not signed voluntarily. Of these 45 documents, only one was deemed to have been signed voluntarily and the remainder were declared to be inadmissible as evidence.
“I could not convince the other two judges that Hakamada was not guilty so I had to convict him as the decision was made by majority. Personally the fact that I had to write his judgement was against my conscience, something I still think about to this day.” Kumamoto Norimichi, Shizuoka District Court judge, 2007
He was convicted and sentenced to death, and the conviction and sentence were upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980.
In 2007, Kumamoto Norimichi, one of the three judges at the Shizuoka District Court that sentenced him to death in 1968, said he believed Hakamada was innocent: “Objectively the evidence for him committing this crime was almost none; however, the investigator thought from the beginning that he was guilty, so the police conducted the investigation assuming that he was responsible for the crime. He was detained and coerced into making a confession because the police had arrested him.”Kumamoto Norimichi could not convince the other two judges that Hakamada was not guilty and was forced to convict him by majority verdict, despite believing in his innocence: “I could not bear the burden of my conscience so I resigned from being a judge … I felt very guilty myself.”
Hakamada’s defence counsel appealed for a re-trial in 1981 but the application was rejected by the Supreme Court in 1994. A second appeal for re-trial was submitted in 2008 to the Shizuoka District Court; the appeal is still pending. Protesting his innocence for over 45 years, Hakamada is one of Japan’s longest serving death row inmates. All prisoners who are sentenced to death in Japan are placed in isolation. Other than brief visits from his sister, his lawyer and a select number of supporters, Hakamada has been kept in isolation for over 30 years. He has shown signs of serious mental deterioration.
UPDATE: In March 2014, Hakamada, then aged 77, was temporarily released by a district court in Shizuoka, who ordered a retrial on the basis that police may have fabricated evidence. This decision was overrturned in 2018 by the Toyko High Court. Hakamada has been allowed to remain home on humanitarian grounds whilst awaiting an appeal of this decision to the Supreme Court.
ADPAN: When Justice Fails – Thousands executed in Asia after unfair trials, (2011), p27-28 (https://adpandotnet.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/adpan-unfair-trials-asa-010232100-final-pdf.pdf); UPDATE: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/21/asia/japan-death-penalty-hakamada-hnk-intl/index.html; https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/06/japan-longest-serving-death-row-inmate-deserves-retrial/